Thinking outside the box

I did a lot of telephone counselling work in the past for EAPs (employee assistance programmes). These are set up by companies, who usually employ a specialist body to provide counselling and, often, other support for employees suffering stress. However, it can be a revolving door. Employees referred for counselling, are ‘put back together’ again, and then re-enter the same workplace that caused them stress in the first place.

Does the support they get make them happy? Well, they generally appreciate it at the time but the sense of wellbeing is unlikely to last if they then return to the same environment. In this event it’s a temporary fix. It’s not a solution.

A true solution would be to reduce stress in the workplace to a manageable level so there is less need to alleviate it. It is also of course a more human approach that would benefit not only the workforce but the employer as well. Happier people work better and more productively. Some progressive companies do have this enlightened view, but many do not and see employees as simply cogs in a machine. Repair the worn cog as quickly as possible and put it back in the machine, even though it’s the machine itself that is causing the problem.

What I often did in those telephone counselling sessions (and I can confess this now that I don’t work for any EAPs) is to gently imply a change of job might be a better option for the employee, and to give them some support in exploring this option. Rather than them wondering how they could return to their job and try to cope better, this often inspired them to ‘think outside the box’. It opened up new possibilities. They started to think the unthinkable: “Yes, I could do something different”.

It takes courage to step outside the box but if we always stick with what we know just because it’s familiar we are likely to look back on our life with regrets.

My book ‘I Just Want To Be Happy’ (co-authored with Susan Smith) is all about doing things differently. Then our future is bound to become different too.

As you might expect, my counselling approach with a good many employees would not have gone down well with their employer. Luckily, they never found out. Telephone calls were not recorded, so my subversive activities went undetected.

Yes, I did things differently.